NVIDIA 'The Way It's Meant to Be Played' 2013 Press Event
Reviewed by: ClayMeow
Reviewed on: October 24, 2013
"The Way It's Meant to Be Played" has been a trademark of NVIDIA for over ten years now. While there are some consumers that simply dismiss it as marketing mumbo jumbo, there is a lot of weight behind that statement. That's because, unbeknownst to many people, NVIDIA is more than just a graphics card manufacturer – the company is also a developer and innovator. "The Way It's Meant to Be Played" is not simply a saying, it is NVIDIA's promise to the gamer.
I was invited to Montreal, Canada for a two-day event to see and experience NVIDIA's newest contributions to the PC gaming industry. Day One was all about NVIDIA Game Works, a library of outstanding developer tools. But before delving into Game Works, Tony Tamasi, Senior Vice President of Content & Technology at NVIDIA, wanted to let us know that PC Gaming is Thriving, as shown in the image below.
NVIDIA GameWorks employs 300 visual effects engineers that work on the Game Works Library and Developer Tools. NVIDIA strives to make GameWorks the gaming equivalent of what Industrial Light & Magic is to movies. NVIDIA has a very close working relationship with many great developers, ensuring their games work best on NVIDIA GPUs by implementing various GeForce-enhanced features, such as PhysX, HBAO+, and more. To illustrate this, Tony went through ten games, highlighting the NVIDIA technologies used in each and featuring quotes from the developers.
Flex: Unified GPU PhysX
NVIDIA's first big announcement was a new addition to the PhysX SDK. PhysX is the most popular physics engine, used in over 500 games! It's integrated into many of today's major engines, like Unreal and Unity, and features multi-platform support.
Flex is the world's first unified solver, has two-way coupling effects, shared collision detection, and parallelism at all stages. In layman's terms, it basically allows multiple physics objects to interact with each other in realistic ways. To illustrate this, we were shown several live demos: bouncing, squishable balls; fluid displacing rigid bodies and then those rigid bodies floating realistically; fluid and cloth interaction; deformable objects; and even a water balloon simulation where the demonstrator could pop the balloon in random spots and the water inside would react realistically, either bursting open or streaming.
NVIDIA's second big announcement was a new addition to the VisualFX SDK, which consists of tools for creating complex, cinematic visual effects across multiple platforms. GI Works is the world's first real-time global illumination solution. It's a fully dynamic system with scalable architecture. Light bounces off surfaces, which also has real-time glossy specular reflections. It basically means that future game developers who utilize GI Works into their games won't have to bake lighting, which is basically "faking it" – it also means that less light sources will actually be needed in the game because a light's "cone of influence" is greater than it may appear due to the bouncing. For anyone who's dealt with game development before in a 3D environment, you know that lighting is a painful process, so this should be very welcome.
We were shown a live demo a museum setting – presumably the prehistoric section due to the dinosaur skeleton displays. There were two main lights (spotlights) in the room, but when the demonstrator flipped global illumination on, the whole room became visible due to the "bouncing" of lights. In real-time, he moved the lights around and you could see how the light changed realistically throughout the room, even when outside the spotlight's cone of influence. This is a much better solution to baking lights because baking is static. As someone who has dealt with lighting in the past, needless to say, I was impressed.
NVIDIA's third and final big announcement for Day One was also a new addition to the VisualFX SDK. Flame Works introduces film-quality volumetric fire and smoke effects to video game development. It features stochastic shadows and scattering, along with a multi-grid solver. We were shown a demo featuring a fire-breathing dragon. The fire was different each time and interacted with physical objects in the world. The demo could be paused and you could see that it was indeed a volume-based system.
When I asked if a developer could combine Flame Works with Flex to have water and fire interact realistically, I was informed that it hadn't been tested. Tony stated that one of the best aspects of the job is seeing how developers utilize the tools in ways NVIDIA never thought of, so he wouldn't put it past developers to work that out.
To finish Day One off right, NVIDIA invited representatives from Warner Bros. and Ubisoft Montreal to show off live, never-before-seen footage of three highly anticipated titles that utilize NVIDIA technology. Sadly, we were not allowed to film any of the live demos.
Batman: Arkham Origins
Presented by Ben Mattes, Senior Producer
For those that aren't familiar with Batman: Arkham Origins, coming out on the 25th, the game takes place in "Year Two" of the Batman universe, featuring a younger, more raw Batman than the previous two Arkham games. The game will show his emergence from a masked vigilante obsessed with revenge to the Dark Knight we're familiar with, the protector of Gotham City. Ben explained how Year Two was chosen because the Year One comics have Batman stumbling around, so players wouldn't have felt powerful, while Year Two is still early in Batman's career wherein the police (and Gordon) do not trust him. It creates an interesting dynamic that permeates throughout the whole game. Black Mask has put a $50 million bounty on Batman's head, attracting eight of the top assassin's to Gotham on one night, Christmas Eve. Batman will have to defeat each assassin while also battling the police force who consider him Enemy Number One.
I have always considered the Batman Arkham games as the very best examples of PhysX implementation done right. I hear from many people who say PhysX doesn't make a difference in games, but those people obviously haven't experienced a Batman Arkham game on a NVIDIA-powered PC. Batman: Arkham Origins will be no different, featuring a slew of NVIDIA technology to enhance the experience and increase immersion. These technologies include Contact-Hardening Shadows, HBAO+, Depth of Field, Environmental Cloth, Blizzard Conditions thru Turbulence, PhysX Particles, Snowprints thru Tesselation, Tearing Cloth, Turbulence, and on Batman alone, TXAA, HBAO+, Soft Shadows, and Cape Tesselation. It's no wonder why NVIDIA invited Ben to show off a live demo of the game.
While Ben showed us several parts of the game, including the very impressive Bat Cave, the main reason for the demo was to show off the dynamic snow system. Batman: Arkham Origins features truly deformable snow with realistic shadowing. The game also features different depths to the snow, only on the PC; and not only does it react realistically to your movement, whether walking, running, or sliding, even the AI leave footprints in the snow – or body prints after you smash them to the ground. After some battles out int he snow, he took Batman (and us) into the Gotham City Police Department, where the game was equally impressive.
Presented by Colin Graham, Art Director, Animation & Nicholas Mainville, Level Designer
If you've been following Watch Dogs – arguably the most anticipated title announced at E3 2012 – you probably heard that it has been delayed. That announcement came just a few days before this event, but luckily that didn't stop representatives from Ubisoft Montreal from showing us a portion of the game. But since it was delayed and is thus still a work in progress, that is why we were not allowed to film any of it, not even take still photos.
Watch Dogs takes place in a fully simulated recreation of Chicago wherein you control protagonist Aiden Pearce who has real-time control over the city's infrastructure. The NVIDIA technology present in Watch Dogs includes HBAO+, TXAA, Enhanced 4K Support, and DX11 Compute.
With Nicholas playing the game and Colin narrating, they decided to show us a story mission that had never been shown outside the studio. Before embarking on the mission, Nicholas walked into a gun shop and Colin directed him what weapons to buy, which included a silenced pistol, an SMG, and just in case things got dicey, a grenade launcher. After crafting some secondary devices, including a noise-making device for distractions, Nicholas made his way to Aiden's contact, a rather shady fellow who briefed him on the situation.
Nicholas' objective was to interrogate a guarded witness, but the contact was there to back him up with a sniper rifle. This was actually a lot cooler than it sounds, as the sniper only took shots after Nicholas set them up, such as luring a guard out of cover with one of those noise emitters, or even using the environment to cause distractions, like remotely controlling a forklift. After Nicholas reached the witness, he got the information he needed rather aggressively, but the work was not done yet. Reinforcements arrived and were closing in on Nicholas' location – good thing he brought that grenade launcher. As he tried to make his escape, he eventually employed something we've seen in other demos – the Blackout. This device is a like a huge EMP, temporarily knocking out all the power. While that sounds overpowered, you won't have unlimited use of it – in this live demo, Nicholas only had one Blackout device to use out of a possible three he could hold. Presumably they are crafted and are most likely rare.
He used the blackout as an opportunity to escape the yard and hop into a car. He quickly had enemy cars in pursuit, so the escape wasn't done. Driving (chaotically) through the streets, Nicholas hacked various road hazards, including a steam pipe to cause an explosion behind him and a draw bridge to lose some pursuers. Eventually he was able to shake them and he got the message that his escape was successful.
Seeing Watch Dogs played live in-person was truly a treat. Rockstar may have created an outstanding sandbox experience with Grand Theft Auto V, but Ubisoft is taking that sandbox experience and adding in the formula for a truly outstanding game. The added development time will make it even better!
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Presented by Sylvain Trottier, Associate Producer & Alexandre Begnoche, Lead Engineer
Assassin's Creed is one of the biggest franchises in the world right now and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is looking to be the biggest and best yet. Black Flag is massive – the biggest world of any Assassin's Creed world. It's also a living open world, full of activities, events, and people; plus a seamless transition between land and sea. While Sylvain was telling us about the game and going through a myriad of slides and comparison shots, Alexandre was busy playing the game off to the side on a 4K display. If you've never seen 4K gaming in action, I'm not sure how to describe to you other than, OMFG.
Sylvain showed us several comparison shots of current gen vs. next gen vs. PC and just as you'd expect, it went from good to better to best. If you're interested in the game, you will definitely want to buy it for next gen or PC because they're both way ahead of current gen. The next gen improvements, which happened to all be built on PC first, are dynamic foliage, improved rain and wet surfaces, parallax occlusion mapping, screen space reflection, volumetric fog, lighted particles, high resolution textures, HBAO, improved shadows, and improved post effects (motion blur, depth of field, lens flare, god rays, etc.). In addition to all that, NVIDIA worked with Ubisoft's Montreal and Kiev studios to make the PC version even better through HBAO+, improved soft shadows, MSAA, TXAA (exclusive to NVIDIA cards), improved god rays, and support for 4K resolution.
GameStream and Game Console Mode
Day Two was kicked off in style, with NVIDIA president and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang taking the stage to announce GameStream. GameStream allows NVIDIA users to game on any screen through GRID (Cloud Gaming), GeForce (PC Gaming), and SHIELD (Android Gaming). If you are familiar with SHIELD, you probably already know that you can stream PC games to your SHIELD if you have a Kepler GPU. GameStream takes that a step further with the introduction of Game Console Mode.
After you connect SHIELD to a TV via HDMI, you are prompted to enter Game Console Mode. By doing so, you can play your Android games on your TV, use Steam's Big Picture Mode to stream PC games from your Kepler-powered PC, or even surf the web. You can either control everything with the SHIELD itself or a Bluetooth gamepad; a Nyko PlayPad Pro was demoed. If you connect via a wired GigE connection, it will stream 1080p. If you connect over WiFi, it will stream 720p instead.
Say your goodbyes to the Ouya. I'd say it was a good run, but that would be a lie – from the beginning, Ouya never quite lived up to the hype. I guess it's true what they say – you get what you pay for. That $100 price tag certainly enticed many people, but those people would have been better off saving up for a SHIELD.
Aside from being able to use SHIELD to stream Android games to a TV, streaming PC games has its advantages too, especially for those that keep their main gaming rig in a different room than their big screen TV. You no longer have to go through the hassle of moving your entire PC – SHIELD acts as a nice portable receiver. This means you can enjoy a game like Batman: Arkham Origins on your nice big 50" TV with ease, while still having something console gamers won't have access to – full PhysX support, not to mention all the other PC-specific improvements.
I was certainly skeptical on the performance, but I'm happy to report that my first-hand experience was flawless. I personally played Borderlands 2 using both the Nyko PlayPad Pro and the SHIELD itself. Since it was curiously connection over WiFi instead of wired, it only streamed at 720p, but I was really impressed that I experienced absolutely no latency or lag. Despite streaming over WiFi and using a Bluetooth gamepad, every button I pressed on the gamepad was perfectly executed one-to-one. Having played Borderlands 2 extensively on the PC using keyboard and mouse controls, playing with the analog sticks of a gamepad was brutal, but I could certainly see this being an awesome experience for games I do play with a gamepad, like platformers.
Game Console Mode will go live via an update on October 28, 2013.
NVIDIA announced two brand new Holiday Bundles that will be available beginning October 28, 2013, which should certainly be on the radar of anyone looking to upgrade their GPU. If you buy a GTX 770, 780 or TITAN, you get Batman: Arkham Origins, Splinter Cell Blacklist, and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag for free plus $100 off a SHIELD. If you buy a GTX 660 or 760, you get Splinter Cell Blacklist, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and $50 off a SHIELD.
If you're into making gameplay videos for YouTube or streaming gameplay live via Twitch, NVIDIA is going to have you covered in a big way. NVIDIA ShadowPlay allows you to "capture your greatest moments" by recording gameplay at 1080p with very low overhead. As the Kepler GPU does the brunt of the work, it also won't tax your CPU, which means it's a solution you can always have running. ShadowPlay automatically saves your last twenty minutes, or you can manually adjust it to record whatever your hard drive can hold. The beta will be available on October 28, 2013.
Twitch Streaming thru GeForce Experience
By leveraging Kepler and ShadowPlay, you can easily broadcast at 480p, 720p, or 1080p directly to Twitch with a full 60fps upload. It works with every game with no effect on your gameplay and you can configure your webcam and position it on the screen for broadcasting right through the GeForce Experience client. NVIDIA showed a live demo of Splinter Cell Blacklist streaming on Twitch. I checked the stream via my laptop and it was indeed all in sync. Unfortunately, the Twitch streaming will not be available with the launch of ShadowPlay, but NVIDIA expects it to be available before the end of the year.
NVIDIA has a solution for all those people that aren't quite happy with the over 8 million pixels on a 4K display – 4K Surround! That's right, now you can enjoy over 24 million pixels! Well, that is if you have about $15K to spare. Not only will you need to buy three 4K displays (not cheap), you'll then need two or three high-end GPUs to be able to run them. NVIDIA had Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag demoed with 4K Surround with three TITANs, and it still only pulled roughly 35-40 FPS (though I should note that the game hasn't yet been optimized for 4K Surround). But if you want the best of the best, it's hard to match.
GeForce GTX 780 Ti
While not quite ready or willing to release the specs, Jen-Hsun did want to leave us with a sneak peek at the next video card coming out of the green camp. The GTX 780 Ti promises to be the best single-GPU available – cool, quiet, fast, and low power. Of course, Jen-Hsun said it works great in SLI to power 4K Surround. I certainly don't doubt that! I'm sure Frank will be reviewing it as soon as he can get his hands on it!
When Day Two began, Jen-Hsun Huang promised something none of us had ever seen before. He was referring to G-Sync. Stutter, lag, and tearing are what he called the "bane of existence of gamers" – he likened it to hemorrhoids, foot fungus, and well, I'll spare you the details. Needless to say, whether you're a PC gamer or console gamer, you've more than likely experienced lag, stutter, and tearing at some point in your life. That is because, up until now the monitor and GPU have operated independently from one another. The GPU controls the drawing of the frames, while the monitor controls the refreshing of the screen (or scanning).
In a perfect world, the monitor refreshes when the frame is drawn and last frame updated, with no variation. Unfortunately, in most games your frame rate will be highly variable. If you turn v-sync on, the GPU will wait to draw the next frame until the current scan is complete, which can introduce lag and stutter when your FPS dips. If you turn v-sync off, you'll improve lag and stutter, but then you'll suffer from tearing. The charts below, provided by NVIDIA, illustrate these situations.
G-Sync is the game changer – quite literally! NVIDIA designed a module that communicates directly with Kepler GPUs. Monitors equipped with this G-Sync module have their timing controlled by the GPU – once the frame is done drawing, the Kepler GPU tells the G-Sync module to update the monitor. No stutter, less lag, and no tearing! Whereas current monitors have fixed refresh rates, G-Sync modules effectively have variable refresh rates. Four major gaming monitor manufacturers have already signed up: ASUS, BenQ, Philips, and ViewSonic.
Since the G-Sync monitors are designed to refresh with your frame rates, dips in FPS no longer affect your experience – it's all buttery smooth through and through. Words only go so far though. Seeing it in person was truly eye-opening. We were shown a live demonstration comparing a regular monitor to a G-Sync monitor with both an NVIDIA-made demo and the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. You can watch a video I recorded of the whole thing, but keep in mind that the video is impacted by the limitations of my camera. While you'll be able to notice some clear differences during certain points of the demo, particularly when rotation is enabled on the pendulum demo, the difference was even more striking in person.
If you were considering getting a new monitor, I highly recommend holding off until these are available. According to a recent press release by ASUS, G-Sync monitors only have a $100 price premium over standard monitors.
NVIDIA is way more than just a video card manufacturer. While the hardware the company puts out is definitely impressive, I am even more impressed by the software development side. When Tony Tamasi stated that they want GameWorks to be to gaming what Industrial Light & Magic is to movies, I believe it. NVIDIA has a large team of engineers actively working to solve some of gaming's biggest problems. How can they make physics objects interact with each other in realistic ways without scripting? How can they create realistic real-time global lighting so developers no longer have to fake it through baking? How can they create volume-based fire and smoke in real-time? How can they get GPUs and monitors to work in unison to reduce stutter, lag, and tearing?
While I'm sure there are many people excited about GameStream, Twitch support, 4K Surround, and the GTX 780 Ti, it's NVIDIA's answers to those aforementioned questions that I'm most excited about. Flex, GI Works, and Flame Works are huge leaps forward for game development, while G-Sync will allow gamers to experience all that in buttery smooth goodness. Want to run your favorite game maxed out, but can't achieve a high, stable FPS? No need to worry if you have a Kepler GPU and G-Sync monitor. Those next-gen consoles may be getting most of the spotlight, but it's a great time to be a PC gamer!
I would like to thank Dave (bosco) for allowing me to represent OverclockersClub at this event and NVIDIA for inviting me to lovely Montreal. It was great seeing all this new NVIDIA technology first-hand, but it was equally great just to get to chat with fellow computer enthusiasts and especially some gaming legends – Tim Sweeney, Johan Andersson, and John Carmack. We also got the opportunity to visit the Ubisoft Montreal studio, which was sweet, but way too short.
NVIDIA has always treated the press and gaming community extremely well, and this event was certainly no exception. I can't wait to see what else NVIDIA has in store for us in the future! I will gladly admit to being a huge NVIDIA fanboy, dating all the way back to when I purchased a GeForce 3 Ti200 – but I think this event has proven my love is warranted. NVIDIA does so much more for gaming than most people realize.